New Orleans levees hold up as Isaac moves in

NEW ORLEANS, La. - Officials said New Orleans' flood protections system was holding up so far Wednesday as Hurricane Isaac stormed through the area.

Isaac's winds and sheets of rain whipped New Orleans, where forecasters said the city's skyscrapers could be subject to gusts up to 100 mph. Fierce winds knocked down traffic signals, toppled newspaper boxes and tore up billboards near the French Quarter.

Most streets in the city were filled several inches of water. Many freeways were shut down because of high water, including about 4 miles of Interstate 10 near La Place, La. Water from Lake Pontchartrain covered the road.

Throughout the greater New Orleans area, about 500,000 people lost power overnight. The local power company said it would not even begin to start making repairs until Thursday because it was too dangerous.

Brad Spiegel was spending the day at the La Quinta Hotel on Camp Street. He saw part of the building fly past his window.

"We just wanted to see what was going on, so we came outside and part of the building was coming off," he said.

Alfred Brandon has lived through hurricanes worse than Isaac, but he said he was frightened by it. About 4:30 a.m., a neighbor's 100-year-old tree snapped like a pencil and it came crashing down onto his roof.

"We were in the back bedroom and my wife woke up," Brandon said. "She heard glass crashing."

The tree crashed into his children's room. No one was hurt.

Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Rachel Rodi said the corps expects to be on "high alert" for a while, but they're confident it's going well so far.

Rodi said a pumping station at the 17th Street canal in New Orleans -- which was built at the site of a levee that breached during Hurricane Katrina -- briefly went down early Wednesday, but operators were able to manually get it working again.

Isaac promises to test a New Orleans levee system bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements after the catastrophic failures during right after Katrina hit in 2005.

When New Orleans residents were asked to compare Isaac to Katrina, many of them laughed. However, most people decided to either leave the city or stay inside during the height of the storm. Police officers, firefighters and reporters were just about the only people outside.

After a handful of people were caught Mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew just to be sure.

"If you loot, you'll get an orange suit," Landrieu said. "Let me be clear, we are going to have a zero tolerance for lawlessness during this emergency."

But Wednesday night enforcement by police appeared to be lax, with brisk foot traffic in some tourist areas.

Outside the few restaurants that remain open people waited in line for as long as an hour, clearly aware of the mayor's order.

"I heard about the curfew, but we really want to eat some jumbo steaks tonight," said diner JD Smith.

Early estimates put property damage at $1.5 billion.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.